Villanova guard Maalik Wayns, a sturdy junior who had been averaging more than 20 points a game, squared up for three-point shots, moved through the lane as if he were invisible only to appear at the basket for layups and generally created shots from everywhere and scored a career-high 29 points Friday.
Yet it was St. Louis Coach Rick Majerus who was praising his players for their great defense, in particular against Wayns.
The Billikens, who had already roundly defeated Washington from the Pac-12 Conference, grabbed a no-doubt 80-68 win against the Wildcats from the Big East and advanced to the championship game of the 76 Classic at the Anaheim Convention Center.
In the tournament title game at 6 p.m. Sunday, St. Louis (5-0) will play Oklahoma (4-0), which beat Santa Clara, 85-73, late Friday. Villanova (4-1) will play Santa Clara (3-2) at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Billikens were led by a trio of double-figures scorers — Jordair Jett (19), Cody Ellis (14) and Kyle Cassity (12) — but the impression they left with Villanova Coach Jay Wright was physical.
"The way they play defense," Wright said, "they stand strong on screens, they run hard off screens, they challenge you to make a straight-line drive rather than take a circular route and we backed down on all those challenges."
Wayns, who was 10 for 20 from the field, said every shot was challenged and that he was going to feel sore after all his effort. "Those guys got into me," he said.
Villanova was up 26-16 with nine minutes left in the first half, but the Billikens seemed to tire out the Wildcats during a 22-8 run to finish the half that earned St. Louis a 38-34 halftime lead.
The Wildcats' James Bell made a three-point shot to start the second half, but Rob Loe responded with a three-pointer for St. Louis as the Billikens kept the lead for the rest of the way.
St. Louis forward Brian Conklin said the Billikens could tell their into-the-body defense frustrated the Wildcats. "They were getting mad," Conklin said. "We like that."
Last season was difficult for St. Louis and Majerus. The team finished 12-19 and the Billikens' two best players, Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed, were suspended by the school for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. Reed did not return to school, but Mitchell is back and starting at guard.
Majerus said he was proud of how his team stuck together a year ago and how it handled early adversity against Villanova.
"We missed some good shots early; they hit a lot of contested shots, but we stayed with it," said Majerus. "Our defense was really pretty good, and we took good care of the ball. All big pluses."
Boston College 66, UC Riverside 62 (OT): UC Riverside Coach Jim Woolridge was grim-faced after the Highlanders (1-4) squandered a 56-50 lead with 55 seconds left in regulation.
"The way we played down the stretch, we couldn't beat anybody," Woolridge said. "We're just on such a thin line, we have to get better at just about everything."
One thing UC Riverside couldn't do was stop Eagles guard Patrick Heckmann, who scored 32 points. At 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the Highlanders will Washington State.
New Mexico 72, Washington State 62: The Lobos were led by 21 points from sophomore guard Tony Snell, who is from Riverside King High, and 17 points from Kendall Williams, a sophomore from Rancho Cucamonga and Los Osos High. New Mexico (3-2) will play Boston College on Sunday at 1 p.m.